Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 10, Number 22
June 10, 2010
Opinion + Analysis
Tackling a taboo topic
Money management 101
Another kind of seat time?
Gadflies in arms
This week, Stafford and Mike contemplate the impact of public school cuts on private school enrollments, paying students to attend Saturday tutoring, and the merits of celebrity high school graduation speakers. Then Amber tells us about a new evaluation of the Chicago performance-pay system, and Janie bans cell phones.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / June 10, 2010
How serious are we about preparing everyone for college? This is perhaps the most widely avoided question in American education. It’s politically dangerous. Merely asking it seems to raise doubts about our core belief in equal opportunity. And it sounds crabby, cranky, arrogant, and classist.
But think about this. The new “common core” standards that states are being encouraged to embrace are indeed rigorous. By eleventh and twelfth grade, for example, they expect students to do such things as:
- Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text…contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.
- Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
- Use words, phrases, and clauses as well as varied syntax to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.
And that’s just part of the tip of the intellectual peaks that our schools, our teachers, and our young people are being asked to scale. (I haven’t even mentioned math!)
Yes, it’s a very good thing to raise this bar. Yes, it’s essential for international competitiveness. Yes, people who have mastered such cognitive skills and knowledge will surely be college ready—and more of those who enroll in college will be prepared to succeed
June 10, 2010
Private school enrollments tend to ebb and flow with the economy. And so fall 2009 private school numbers expectedly dipped in response to 2008’s economic downturn. But fall 2010 might be another story. Some parents, it seems, are fed up with public school districts making the wrong budget cuts—lopping specialized programs, extra-curriculars, and electives—and with seniority based layoffs which, by cutting the least expensive teachers regardless of quality, unduly increase class size. In the Chicago area, some independent and parochial schools are being swamped with applications from parents who don’t see their tax dollars being put to good use at the local district school. In New Jersey, taxpayers are voting down school budget bailouts while local private schools are stepping up their advertising efforts to lure away disaffected parents. The message is clear: If school leaders are unwilling to make the tough decisions and cut the fat, parents will vote with their feet.
“Public schools’ loss may be private schools’ gain,” by Robert Channick, Chicago Tribune, June 4, 2010
“Private schools could benefit from cuts in public education,” by Rob Jennings, New Jersey Daily Record, May 23, 2010
June 10, 2010
Last year we criticized Roland Fryer’s “pay for performance” programs in part because kids were getting mixed messages about incentives. Should we really pay youngsters for doing things they already should be doing? Better, perhaps, to pay them for doing things they wouldn’t ordinarily dream of doing, such as showing up for tutoring…on a Saturday. That’s what will happen this fall at Houston’s nine lowest-performing middle and high schools. The intent, obviously, is to get struggling pupils to come in for extra help. Students will receive $30 for each three-hour Saturday session, plus free breakfast and lunch. The weekend mornings aren’t official school days, so student participation is voluntary, which is why HISD superintendent Tony Grier figured paying kids “like a job” would help defray the potential economic hardship for those expected to supplement their family income. Grier hopes to cover the $28.5 million yearly price tag with state funds and private grants. The thinking isn’t crazy: No Child Left Behind’s supplemental services tutoring program struggled to get kids to return for more, which is one reason it showed lackluster results. As for whether this program merits the expenditure, maybe there is something to the saying “showing up is half the battle.”
“At-Risk Students Learn…and Earn,” by Ericka Mellon, Houston Chronicle, June 3, 2010
June 10, 2010
English is a complicated and often counterintuitive language. “I” before “e” except after “c” and when it sounds like “a,” as in neighbor and weigh? A group of phonetics die-hards agree. They turned out this week to protest the National Spelling Bee to say that “Enuf is enuf” when it comes to convoluted spelling and “Enough is too much.” Of course, spelling bees' very purpose is to celebrate the intricacies of English. Nevertheless, these revisionists believe that fruit should be froot, slow should be slo, and heifer should be hefer. “Our alphabet has 425-plus ways of putting words together in illogical ways,” explained one dissident, a former Fairfax County, VA elementary school principal. The cause for her radicalism? Current English spelling prohibits 40 percent of the population from learning how to read, write, and spell, she claims. She doesn’t elaborate, but one spelling researcher explains that it’s the heightened level of memorization needed to master spelling exceptions and tricky rules that’s at fault. Don’t fall for this twaddle! What happened to applying ourselves to the pursuit of language mastery, rather than taking the easy way out?
“In DC, even the Spelling Bee draws protesters,” by Lauren Sausser, Associated Press, June 4, 2010
Janie Scull / June 10, 2010
David N. Figlio and Cassandra M.D. Hart
National Bureau of Economic Research
This NBER working paper adds to a long line of studies demonstrating that competition lifts all boats. It focuses on the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program—the largest such program in the country—which gives low-income students tuition stipends to attend private schools; nearly 28,000 students took advantage last year. The authors studied whether heightened competitive pressure from nearby private schools raised the quality of nearby public ones. What distinguishes this paper from its predecessors is how the authors isolated those competitive effects (from such contaminants as shifting school demographics): They paid particular attention to the year between when the program was signed into law (2001) and when it went into effect (school year 2002-03). During that time period, when students were applying for the program, but had not yet enrolled, the analysts found that the threat of increased competition led to statistically significant improvement in public school test scores. Unsurprisingly, this was particular true in schools with the most to lose—namely, those with more low-income students whose additional Title I funding would be lost if the student left for private school, and elementary and middle schools, where the voucher covered a larger percentage of (cheaper) elementary/middle private school tuition, than at the high school level. You can purchase the paper for a small fee here.
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / June 10, 2010
Steven Glazerman and Allison Seifullah
Mathematica Policy Research
The federal government has been handing out big bucks through the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) for performance-based teacher pay programs: approximately $937 million since 2006, including $437 million to come this fall. But are we getting our money’s worth? This study suggests not. Analysts examined 2008-09 data from sixteen schools in Chicago that were using the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP), which awards teachers annual bonuses based on their value added to student achievement and their demonstration of key teaching competencies. Eight of the sixteen were randomly assigned to a treatment group that began using TAP in 2007, and eight were assigned to begin using TAP in 2008. The advantage of this design is that differences between the cohorts can be attributed to experiencing an additional year of TAP; the disadvantage is that the comparison group disappears after year 2. So to supplement this design, researchers created a matched control group of schools that did not use TAP but had similar academic and demographic characteristics. Neither design showed significant program impact on student achievement in 2008-09, or on rates of teacher retention. But before declaring TAP—or performance-pay generally—a bust, we should remember a few things: reforms like TAP seek to alter the culture of teaching, including attracting different types of folks to the profession, which means they take time to put down roots (certainly more than this study’s two years); TAP’s performance
Opportunity at the Top: How America's Best Teachers Could Close the Gaps, Raise the Bar, and Keep our Nation Great
Jamie Davies O'Leary / June 9, 2010
Bryan Hassel and Emily Hassel
What if we could close the achievement gap in five years? The Hassels think it can be done and in this paper they explain how. It builds upon their earlier report, 3X For All, which explained how we could take better advantage of the 800,000 or so most effective teachers by extending their reach (number of children served) and touch (direct interaction with students). But while that one explained how to do that—mostly through expanded use of technology—this report explains what would happen if we did. The top 25 percent of teachers typically advance their students through a full six months more material during the course of a year than the average teacher, and as much as a year more material than a bottom quartile teacher (in whose classroom students would lose ground). Thus every two years a child spends with a top quartile teacher typically yield three years of academic growth. The average black student is two years behind a white peer. So, if you put that black student in a top quartile teacher’s classroom for four years in a row, you have eliminated the achievement gap. Five years and the black student is ahead of the curve. Unfortunately, the way we recruit, compensate, and evaluate teachers makes this nigh impossible. The Hassels explain this in considerable detail, but they stop short of saying how to actually eradicate such counterproductive